In post-conflict societies such as Liberia, it is not evident who the relevant national actors are, or whether it is really possible to talk about national ownership in the aftermath of civil war. Yet, international actors are involved in specifying the relevant national actors, deciding who is legitimate and who is not. By conducting a case study of the Security Sector Reform (SSR) in Liberia, I discuss how the distinct context in which a peacebuilding operation is taking place needs to be addressed. An empirically grounded approach has been followed to facilitate analysis of whether the lack of local ownership in the SSR is undermining the reform as a peacebuilding activity. As illustrated in this study, Liberia is still a highly polarised society, severely complicating the question of ownership. The cleavages that formed a pre-requisite for the civil war and grew wider during the conflict are still present in current day Liberia. Specifically, they relate to questions of identity, ethnicity and ownership of the land.
Following an approach to peacebuilding where the democratic aspects of reform have become subordinated the external governance of it, while not considering the specific Liberian context, has left the SSR with fundamental problems that are not addressed. The reform was supposed to be a partnership of governance between the international community and the local actors, but became a highly uneven partnership, alienating local actors. As this study emphasises, even if domestic actors are by no means guaranteed to develop good practices, they need to be empowered and respected to yield good results in the long-term.